A report out this week shows the average annual cost for infant child care in Wisconsin is the 13th highest in the nation.
The cost even outpaces tuition at the state's four-year universities. The Economic Policy Institute report found the average cost for a year of child care for an infant in Wisconsin is $11,579, while average tuition at the state’s four-year universities is $8,406. That puts Wisconsin on a list of 33 states where infant care costs more than college.
At current levels, a year of infant care would eat up 17.6 percent of the median income for Wisconsin families with children.
Despite high costs for families, child care workers in Wisconsin only make an average of about $10 an hour, said Ruth Schmidt, executive director of the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association. She said that means there isn’t a simple path to reducing costs. The onus can't just be on parents, businesses or government individually to come up with a solution, she said — rather, "there has to be some sort of a tripart approach."
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Through programs called Wisconsin Shares and Wisconsin Works, families earning up to twice the federal poverty level can receive state assistance to pay for child care, but Jody Bartnick, the Madison-based executive director of child care advocacy and support organization 4-C, said a relatively small increase in income can make that support disappear.
"'We really need to be focusing on ways to help families have a stepping stone towards their independence, because we certainly want to see families be able to increase their income and then not be faced suddenly with having to pay the full cost of child care if, in fact, they can't afford it," she said.
Bartnick said she sees a growing consensus in Wisconsin and across the country that investing in high-quality child care can pay off for government and business.